Oakland's Dallas Braden Blanks Rays in Perfect Game
The Oakland Athletics pitcher who has made a name for himself through a verbal feud with Yankees star Alex Rodriguez nailed down a far more noteworthy achievement Sunday, retiring 27 Tampa Bay Rays batters in order to complete the 19th perfect game in major league history.
The left-hander set down Willy Aybar, Dioner Navarro and Gabe Kapler in the ninth inning to nail down his 4-0 gem. Kapler grounded to shortstop Cliff Pennington for the final out.
"I never imagined all those goose eggs," Braden told A's television afterward. "You just go out there and try to compete."
The Rays also were victimized in the most recent perfect game, by Mark Buehrle of the White Sox in Chicago last July 23. Oakland did have one of the previous perfect games, by Catfish Hunter against the Twins on May 8, 1968.
A changeup specialist, Braden has been a full-time member of the A's rotation since the final month of 2008. He finished that season strong and ended up as the A's opening day starter in 2009 because of an injury to Justin Duchscherer. Braden pitched well for the first half last year, but missed the end of the season because of a mysterious foot infection.
Braden came into his start on Sunday with a 3-2 record and a 4.14 ERA, but he had been best-known this year for his confrontation with Rodriguez last month.
By now everyone knows the story. Rodriguez ran across the mound while returning to first base after a foul ball. Braden, believing Rodriguez had violated one of baseball's unwritten rules, yelled at him on the field and lit into him further after the game. Two weeks later, he was still being asked about it, and he still had harsh words for Rodriguez. Rodriguez said he didn't want to talk about the matter anymore to give Braden any more than his "15 minutes (of fame)."
Braden got into the history books on a day, Mother's Day, that was no doubt emotional for him even before the game started. Braden's mother, Jodie Atwood, died of cancer during Braden's senior year of high school. The pitcher wears his mother's wedding ring on a chain around his neck.
Braden, 26, grew up in and still lives in Stockton, just down the road from Oakland, and his grandmother, Peggy Lindsey, was among the 12,228 in attendance Sunday. After a postgame embrace, she stuck up for her grandson by delivering a message through reporters: "Stick it, A-Rod."
In Boston, where the Yankees were preparing for a Sunday night game against the Red Sox, Rodriguez was gracious when asked for his reaction.
"Good for him," said Rodriguez. "Even better that he beat the Rays."
Braden threw 77 of his 109 pitches for strikes Sunday. And unlike Buehrle and most pitchers who hold an opponent hitless, he didn't need an assist from a spectacular defensive play to close the deal.
The Rays entered the game as the second-highest-scoring team in the majors but didn't put much of a scare into the Oakland starter. Certainly nothing like the one Buehrle endured leading off the ninth inning of that game last summer when defensive replacement Dewayne Wise robbed none other than Kapler at the center field fence to preserve the perfecto.
"When he needed to, he made good pitches," Kapler told MLB.com. "It wasn't about getting close. When he needed to make his pitch he made it. He made it all day."
Yes, Braden was in control of this one from the beginning. And when it was finished, his teammates mobbed him on the mound as the pitcher pointed to the sky to salute his mother.
"[Mother's Day] hasn't been a joyous day for me in a while," Braden said. "With my Grandma in the stands it makes it a lot better."
FanHouse's Jeff Fletcher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.